July 2002 Archives

I'm updating the site

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I'm updating the site today to consolidate all of my pages (except for this weblog) at mediatinker.com

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Man studying piano score

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Man studying piano score on the Namboku line between Nagatacho and Kasuga.

Urban hiking

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This band of elderly urban adventurers has just been to visit the graves of prominent historical figures at Denzuin. After crossing the street with their guide waving his flag to point the way, they are heading to the station to conclude the tour. The guide looks back and waits for stragglers who have moved into "casual chatting" mode after spending too much time in "paying attention to important sights" mode.

Kristen's Guide to Identifying City Sightseeing Tours

  1. All members of the touring party will be wearing hats.
  2. Look for matching hatbands (this group wore light turquoise) or badges with the tour company name.
  3. Attire is always long pants, a long sleeved, button-front shirt and sensible walking shoes.
  4. Most adventurers will carry daypacks and some will sport extra accessories, such as water bottles and cameras.
  5. In challenging weather or hiking conditions, you may see: white cotton gloves, raincoats with hoods (never umbrellas as they restrict the view) or rustic walking sticks.

Fame and infamy

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Does wanting to be famous preclude you from ever being famous?

I'm not sure. There are lots of people who hunger for fame and many of them try extremely hard, only to fail. Maybe only those who don't seek fame become famous? How do famous people get that way? Skill and talent don't take you all that far, though you need them to get noticed. After that, I suspect it's who you know and the choices you make. That's true for just about everything, though...

I'm among a small group of women friends who would like to be well-known in our various fields. Some of us want to be renowned for being talented, some hope for fame as a way to bring them a flow of interesting things to do. Maybe a few of us wouldn't mind fortune, either. I have no doubt whatsoever that at least one of us is going to make it big.

I guess I'll just do what I do, know who I know, be who I am, and see what happens. It could be me that you read about in the news and see on TV in the future. Keep your fingers crossed...

Thwarted

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When I desperately want to get out of this hot, humid city I seem to choose the time it's most difficult to do so.

August is holiday month. And many (most!) Japanese take a summer holiday this month. Consequently all the trains are booked up and planes cost twice as much as usual. It's maddening for spur-of-the-moment travellers.

I want to go to Onomichi, a beautiful little town on the northern shore of the Seto Inland Sea. I was there for a just one day a few years back and it captured my heart. It is my very favorite city in Japan: quiet, lovely, & friendly. I've been wanting to return for a long time.

I'm not sure how I can make this work. It might come down to buying two $500 round trip plane tickets (plus a bus and a train), or maybe two $350 Shinkansen tickets. Seems rather extravagant for a one-day trip, though. Maybe we'll just go to Saitama, instead. Train fare's $10 and there's a nice onsen only an hour away.

Albrecht Durer's eyes

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Albrecht Durer had nice eyes. But look closely. In this self-portrait (age 28) painted in 1500, his pupils are quite uneven. This fascinates me because I also have uneven pupils.

Anisocoria (the medical term for uneven pupil size) appears in about 20% of the US population. In my case, it appeared suddenly about a year ago and I think it's migraine-related. I wonder if Durer had a headache?

For more pictures of and by Durer, visit the Artchive. Take a look at his earlier self-portraits and check the eyes on the portrait of his father. Interesting.

Stamp rally

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To brighten up the summer school holidays, Metron's Stamp Rally 2002 is underway through 8/18. In 44 subway stations around Tokyo, you'll find a rubber stamp chained to a small table, an ink pad secured to the table and a pile of paper slips for stamping.

The game is to collect all the stamps in a special-purpose rally book. 2002 is the Corocoro Comic All-Star series featuring famous Japanese cartoon characters like Doraemon and the Pocket Monsters. In Hibiya station, I found this stamp--Kongo-kun, a former TBS anime character who now features in a Konami game called Muscle Ranking. I've never heard of him, but I suppose he's an all-star to the elementary schoolkids this stamp rally is meant to entertain.

London hours

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Tod has been "working London hours" for the past week. Because he needs to communicate with his colleagues in London, he stays up late working at home til 2 or 3 am, then gets up at 10, works a little more from home and heads into the office at about noon or 1 pm. He heads home for a dinner break at around 7, and spends the rest of the night working.

He is a night person so this is an ideal schedule for him. I'm quite the opposite. Give me a morning and I'll get things done. By the time Tod's waking up, I've accomplished plenty on my To Do list but by 3:00, I usually want to stop.

When he started this (he's always up late working, but now the office let's him arrive late, so he sleeps late, too), I didn't think it would really make any difference to my schedule, since we don't interact too much during the day anyway. But it does. I seem to be staying up later myself, though I get up at my usual time. I need to adjust myself to this new routine, though I don't know exactly how...

Aircon fan

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I am not a big fan of air conditioning. I feel trapped when I have it on. I don't want to leave my cool, dry room so I stay inside. Going outside--even to the veranda--is an expedition to the tropics. I've stopped running errands because it's too hot. Yesterday I felt a big sense of accomplishment when I walked for 6 minutes to the post office. That's pathetic!

Until the past few years, I'd never relied on air conditioning. I used fans in the summer. Or escaped into a cool oasis at work or shopping. That was encouragement to leave the house and I never minded returning home afterwards because home is always great, even when it's too warm.

Today, I am experimenting with the veranda door open and no aircon. I lack a fan, which makes a difference, but I'll try to keep the experiment going as long as I can today. And maybe later I'll go to the bank...

I found an inchworm

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I found an inchworm creeping up the spearmint in my garden yesterday. Last week there was a slug slithering alongnear the thyme. A month ago, a caterpillar grew huge on my basil and parsley. Spiders love the bush basil.

I seem to be harboring a nice little ecosystem of plants and bugs. Quite surprising, really for a 2nd floor container garden. I've never seen a slug or an inchworm in Tokyo before.

Houzuki festival

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Who knew buying a plant could be such a festive event? We walked down to the Bunkyo-ku Asagao and Houzuki Festival at Konyaku-Enma shrine to get a Chinese lantern plant (houzuki) and were greeted by a dozen festival staff. They were so friendly and quite surprised when Tod conversed in Japanese.

Houzuki are old-fashioned summer flowers and every year there are stalls set up at shrines around the city to sell them and asagao which we know as morning glories. I remember houzuki growing in a neighbor's garden when I was a kid. So they are natsukashii even for me.

In addition to the plant, we received a furin. These delicate glass windchimes are painted on the inside with summery patterns; ours has purple flowers and a blue stripe. The tinkle of glass in the summer breeze is ice in a cold drink.

Flower and furin weren't all we took away. Two nice men took our photo as a souvenir and the staff at the register gave us a pen and a handkerchief printed with the festival flowers. It was quite a shower of presents. Maybe because it was the end of the day and they were getting ready to pack everything up or because we were the only customers. Maybe because even in this huge city our foreign faces are a novelty.

Matsuri dressup

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8:45 pm. Two girls heading off for an ice cream from the Family Mart after the asagao festival at Denzuin.

Underground

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I've been reading Underground by Haruki Murakami. It's a work of non-fiction about the 1995 Tokyo Sarin Attack. Murakami interviewed people who were vicitms and members of the cult that perpetrated the attack and compiled them into a very compelling read.

The attacks occurred well before I came to Japan and I never really learned much about what had happened. Needless to say, my eyes are opened. A dozen people died and five thousand were injured by the poisonous nerve gas released on five trains during rush hour. The subway lines and many of the stations involved are on my daily routes around town.

Riding the subway the past few days and thinking about what happened seven years ago, I've been more aware of how vulnerable we all are to terrorism even here in this relatively safe country. You might think those musings are a little late, considering all the press that terrorism has been getting in the past ten months. Maybe so, but reading about the attacks from the view of individuals has given me new things to think about.

One big point is that it's not entirely wise to rely on agencies and services to save you in a crisis. Not that you can be prepared for every possible situation, but a broad knowledge of how to handle various disaster scenarios is probably good preparation. I realise that I lack a great deal of that knowledge. For example, I don't even know precisely where the nearest hospital is...

Focus

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Do you ever get so intensely focussed on something that you forget everything else? I can do that if I'm creating just about anything--writing, filming, drawing, photographing. Today I managed to lose the entire day while rebranding a client's website. I'm about halfway there now...I'll try to surface here with some interesting Japan tidbits tomorrow.

Collectible plates

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I'm going to tell you a secret. Those saccharine little collectible plates you've been giving your mom every year on Mother's Day? They may not be worth much.

Last night at Hakunincho Yataimura, a food court featuring really decent Asian cuisine in Okubo, we asked for extra dishes. What did they bring? A dozen "Cherished Moments Last Forever, Mother's Day 1981" plates. Two of us turned them over to see where they came from and laughed aloud to read "Made in Japan exclusively for Avon."

After dinner, I checked on the 'Net to see what I could dig up on Avon plates. They sell for $10 to $20 on the collectibles market and apparently for next to nothing out of some "ChEAp DIshEz" box on the street in Kappabashi.

4 years in Japan

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Today is the first day of our 5th year in Japan.

In other words, we celebrated our 4th Japan anniversary yesterday. We had dinner at a posh restaurant with a view and I dressed up because it was a good excuse. Dressing up is fun and far too infrequent. I suppose if I were always jetting off to film premieres and other fancy dress events, I'd learn to hate it, but as it is, I like doing my hair, swiping on some lipstick and feeling fabulous.

Fabulous has its downside, too. As we were walking home, a fat pimply man stepped in front of us, turned around and started walking backwards so that he could look me over top to toe. I glared at him and after a few steps, he turned away. The incident wasn't threatening, but it was a bit unusual. Maybe that's a taste of what it's like to be famous.

Healthy drinks

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An entire endcap display at our supermarket is devoted to healthy juices. There's quite a variety and I was captivated by the interesting combinations. Soy-sesame-brown rice. Apple-sweet potato. And myriad fruit and vegetable mixes. Even at 200 yen a pop, I had to get some.

The apple-sweet potato drink was a happy surprise. It was bright magenta and tasted like a really good autumn dessert. Sweet potatoes contain SOD, a super anti-oxidant, and this drink has 1,000 IU (way more than the recommended daily dose) so my skin should be glowing with fresh health very soon.

The soy-sesame-rice drink was not good. Enough said.

Two cans of mixed juices appealed to the artist in me: Orange Yellow Fruits and Vegetables, and Yellow Substantial Fruits and Vegetables. They were mainly the same juice, one with celery and one with pumpkin. Tasty and easy to drink. Perhaps the most striking thing about them was the English on the label: . Contains various micronutrients and well balanced roughage. A pack of flavory juice just squeezed from fresh vegetables and fruits.

I should drink "flavory juice" every day.

Linguistic Deductions

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Linguistic Deductions

"Remain Heart is a funny name for a restaurant," I said as we approached this sign at Iidabashi station.

"Maybe they meant remain heartful," Tod suggested. In katakana English, heartful seems to mean 'loving and caring.'

"Maybe. But why is the picture a brain with a heart in it?"

"That's not a brain. It's a lettuce."

"Do you think they meant 'Romaine Heart'?"

"Aha, hearts of Romaine! Of course."

next week: deciphering the menu. stay tuned...

The flow of holidays

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After four years, I am converted to the flow of Japanese holidays and seasons. In my imagination, summer is indigo and white, with kingyo, morning glories, glass chimes, cool somen noodles, and mosquito coils in pig-shaped pottery jars. (Check out Hide Itoh's excellent collection of summer icons at pixture.com)

There are two holiday traditions in July. Tanabata is my favorite because it celebrates stars, love, and wishes and features fancy decorations. Obon is a festival for the dead. It's celebrated twice, in mid-July (traditional) and in mid-August (modern), so that people in Tokyo can go visit their hometowns and fete their ancestors as well as feasting the generations that grew up in the metropolis.

There is an actual national holiday coming up, Marine Day on the 20th, but nobody really seems to celebrate it. That's one of the things I love about Japan, nobody waits for the national holidays to celebrate.

Meishi of my own

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Since we moved in February, I've not had any personal meishi (business cards), but while shopping the other day, I found some very interesting translucent stock that will work in my inkjet printer. So today I'm designing some new cards.

I forgotten how challenging it is to get a good balance of white space, graphic interest and all the contact details into a 91mm x 55 mm rectangle. But I think I like this design. Next time you see me, ask for a card.

Yakatabune

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Yakatabune! Dining on Tokyo Bay.







Floating parties on ships like these are a summer tradition dating back centuries. Poetry readings and courtly music have been replaced by karaoke, but the spirit is the same. It was fun to dress up in yukata.

Typhoon Chataan

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Typhoon Chataan blew through yesterday (so much for too little rain) and by 2:30 this morning, it was extraordinarily windy. We battened down the hatches and went to sleep. This morning the sky is bright and clear except for an appalling haze of pollution around the horizon.

Mistakes and lessons

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"You have the capacity to learn from mistakes. You'll learn a lot today."

Thanks, Slashdot, for posting those words of wisdom and encouragement at the bottom of your page. I've been working on some video projects that are simple in concept, but tedious and frustrating in execution. My equipment is just not behaving.

Like I told MJ yesterday, for any big project involving tech you have to book in an extra two weeks for twiddling and tweaking software and going out to buy new hardware to make it all work. During this project I've lost a scan converter to the cruel, laughing gods of hardware and am stunned by the inadequacies of the DV editing software I've been using for the past 8 years. It's time to make some changes...I'm ready to learn a lot today.

It's stopped raining

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It's stopped raining. Yesterday's weather was hot and humid--typical Tokyo summer. We're due to have thundersorms over the next couple of days, but that's not a typical rainy season all-day drizzle. Looks like tsuuyu is over. If so, that was a very short rainy season.

Farmers rely on a long tsuuyu to keep the rice wet while the grains start to form. Not enough rain early on and the crop could falter or fail, driving up the price of rice in the shops. Rice is already expensive; a 2 Kg bag runs about 1,000 yen. That's about $1.85/lb compared to $0.80/lb in the US. Now in the US it's not a big deal since rice is a side dish but here in Japan rice is the main dish and everything else is a side dish!. So expensive rice is bad for the family budget.

Bring on those thunderstorms...

Son't say oriental

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Washington state in the northwest US has passed a law banning the use of the word Oriental. "There is a need to make clear that the term 'Asian' is preferred terminology, and that this more modern and nonpejorative term must be used to replace outdated terminology," the law says.

Yes, 'oriental' is outdated when referring to people from Japan, China, Korea and the scads of other Asian countries. Most people who keep up with these things use Asian instead. But is it necessary to pass a law to ban an unfashionable word? What words are next in line for being outlawed? Dude. Hottie. 'Rents.

If you really want to change vocabulary, you must manipulate the media or infiltrate popular culture. Make the use of 'oriental' embarrassing, painful, or otherwise personally disadvantageous and it will slowly disappear. Introduce Asian as the latest buzzword and it will spring to everyone's lips. "That cafe is so Asian; I could spend hours relaxing there!"

Zoupi

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Yesterday's fun all involved Zoupi. (You can meet him at Zousan.com) After completing his photoshoot for "Where's Zoupi?", he packed up and headed off to Belgium where he'll be vacationing and enjoying a homestay in Heverlee.

How is it that Zoupi gets a holiday but I don't? I'm not sure, but at least his airfare was affordable--only 870 yen to Belgium via first class airmail.

We priced air travel for an August vacation for us humans. A round trip to the States with a few stops along the way came in at a whopping 198,000 yen (about $1,650) per person. Work committments forced us to cancel our trip, but maybe that's not so bad--it will cost half as much in September or October.

Another all-night billiards session

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Another all-night billiards session.

This one is indelibly etched in my mind because I managed to sink all my balls and the eight ball before Tod dropped a single one of his. I won and Tod was subject to MJ's Aussie pub rules. He had to "drop trou" and run a lap around the pool table!

Fortunately, by 3 am the crowd in the pool hall had thinned but I think Tod made quite an impression. Maybe not as much as MJ did--they asked her name as we left at 4:30...

Rant on housing

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//rant on//

The Japanese real estate system is exceedingly frustrating. With Tod soon unemployed, we'll need to change our housing lease. Currently it is in the company name; now it will need to be in our name. That shouldn't be such a big deal since we have ample funds to cover the rent through the end of the contract.

But it looks like this is going to be a headache of massive proportions. The landlord doesn't like unemployed tenants. They'd prefer to deal with employer-held contracts. I'm not sure what they can do if we continue paying the rent...kick us out? On what grounds?

In addition to that issue, there's the trouble of a guarantor. Personal leases require a guarantor who is willing to disclose all of their financial details to the realtor and to vouch for us. It's like having Dad co-sign your first mortgage.

Guarantors aren't just for foreigners or first time renters. All renters who have leases in their names have guarantors. At what point are the Japanese allowed to become fiscally responsible adults? Maybe never.

//rant off//

Naming hills

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Tokyo has a lot of hills with names.

Streets generally don't have names, but the hills do: Andozaka, Tomisaka, Dangozaka. A few of them are well-known for their neighborhoods or train stations--Kagurazaka, Nogizaka, Akasaka--and there are plenty that loan their names to busy intersections, but many are only etched onto historical signs dotting the local landscape. Who ever heard to Shichimencho-saka? Just the few people who've stopped to read the marker.

Some are named after notable Tokyo citizens; some names come from historical activities or local fauna. But it doesn't explain why hills have names and status, yet streets do not.

Julianne live

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Julianne is a musician I know through DigitalEve. Last night she played at the Artist's Cafe, a bar/restaurant on the 43rd floor of Tokyo Dome Hotel.

Although I've heard her music recorded, I've never heard her live, so Tod & I met at the hotel after work and listened to a set. Julianne's music mixes ambient and ethnic influences with jazz. She plays piano and sings. Tod loved it--he even heard bits of things he's been experimenting with when he plays.

Julianne plays at the Artist's Cafe again on 7/16. If you'd like to join us, drop a note.

Adding comments

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To celebrate the half-year, I've added comments to my weblog. Thanks to enetation, you can talk back to my posts. I'm not sure if this is wise or foolish. Why don't you tell me? Click down there...

Half-year

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Today marks the nominal half-way point of the year. It's even observed as a holiday in China and Thailand. In reality, the halfway point is July 2nd (the 183rd day of the year) but let's stick with the easy-to-remember start of July.

It seems like a fine reason to celebrate. What should I do to mark the occasion? Bake half a cake, maybe.

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